Any charitable organization will tell you how invaluable volunteers are in spreading awareness of their programs and services, planning events and fundraising.
One Hope United, a nonprofit agency dedicated to the care of at-risk children and families, is recognizing a special group of active volunteers with a combined 65 years of service by naming them to its Lake County Ambassador Board.
The board includes: Donna Bergl (Abigail’s Avenue), Jeanne Hansen, Robin Korom (Consumers Credit Union), Linda Mehnert (Mary Kay Cosmetics), Chris Schnitzer (KapStone Paper & Packaging) and Paula Toby-Duck (Consumers Credit Union).
“It’s great because you have that depth of experience. It’s a really good mix of people to support the organization in a local way,” said Em Hall, marketing director for One Hope United.
More ambassadors could be added to the board in the future, further strengthening the organization’s goal to increase awareness of child abuse prevention initiatives.
“We want to get the word out about who we are and that we haven’t gone away. We’re certainly becoming stronger as an organization than any time before,” said Howard Schnitzer, chairman of One Hope United’s Northern Illinois/Wisconsin Region Advisory Board.
Schnitzer, who also serves as governance board liaison for the ambassador group, said he and his wife, Chris, of Lake Villa, have been One Hope United volunteers for about seven years.
“I brought my wife to One Hope United when it was Central Baptist Children’s Home with a truckload of pumpkins we hadn’t used in Oktoberfest,” Schnitzer said. “We pulled up and they came out like I was delivering gold. These kids were just so happy they were getting pumpkins. I was hooked from that moment. My wife and I both were.”
One Hope United’s presence in Illinois dates back to 1895, when Baptist missionaries founded the Chicago Orphanage in Downers Grove. In 1948, the organization relocated to a sprawling campus on Deep Lake in Lake Villa, which became known as Central Baptist Children’s Home, and later Kids Hope United before changing its name once more to One Hope United.
The Lake Villa campus houses administrative offices and a residential facility for abused and neglected boys. The ambassador board was formed to raise more community awareness of the importance of One Hope United’s services and programs, including foster care, adoption, residential care, family support, youth services, counseling and early childhood centers.
Serving regions in Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida, One Hope United also provides prevention, intervention and community-based support programs to vulnerable, high-risk populations at the local, state and national level.
Last year, One Hope United helped about 4,500 families in Illinois with its services and programs.
Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim commended One Hope United for its dedication to the prevention of child abuse and efforts to raise community awareness.
“We do a lot of work with One Hope United,” he said. “Their history speaks for itself. It’s a fantastic organization.”
What makes child abuse so difficult from a law enforcement and protection perspective is it often occurs behind closed doors, with the perpetrator being someone the child knows, Nerheim said.
“Victims often won’t report abuse because they don’t feel like anyone would believe them,” he said. “It makes it really hard to intervene. That’s why spreading awareness is so critical.”
Nerheim said One Hope United’s ambassadors are effective in their duties because they are passionate about this subject matter.
Lake County's Children's Advocacy Center handled 681 cases of child abuse last year. Nerheim said that figure is expected to increase in 2015.
It’s not that we’re seeing an increase in child abuse incidents,” he said. “It’s that more cases are being reported, investigated and prosecuted, which is a good thing.”
One Hope United will host "Hope in Action" on April 18 at the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier. Tickets will be sold through April 10. The event will include food and drinks, a live auction, interactive museum exhibits and more. Visit www.onehopeinaction.org to register.
Anyone visiting downtown Chicago can view One Hope United's "Inside Out" public art campaign supporting National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which features portraits of supporters. The photos are on display through April 24 at Pioneer Court, 401 Michigan Ave.